As a private dog trainer in NYC, I frequently have clients confess that they spoil their dog. When they are revealing these daunting words “I spoil my dog” I watch as their face shifts to a look of concern and embarrassment. They often then look up at me and pause -and I can tell they are waiting to be scolded.
Much to their surprise I always meet that statement with a big smile and answer “Great! So do I.” I spoil my dogs every day, and I especially spoil them on holidays! Our dogs bring us so much joy and unconditional love that it is natural to want to return the favor. However, there are definitely right and wrong ways to spoil your dog.
The key to spoiling your dog is knowing what makes your dog smile and what is on their wish list. You can spoil your dog the “right way” by providing activities and gifts that strengthen your relationship, provide a mental or physical exercise outlet for your dog, and improve your overall training regimen. You should try to avoid “spoiling” your dog the wrong way by contributing to unwanted behavior, or by providing gifts that make the human smile but not the dog – i.e. booties, sunglasses and other odd ‘bling’ accessories. These types of rewards do not strengthen your relationship with your dog and can sometimes even have an adverse effect on your overall training program.
The Peaceful Dog’s Top 5 ways to Spoil your best friend
1. Be Present
Being present is a simple thought, but it is definitely not an easy task. Being present requires us to be aware, attentive, compassionate and emotionally available. Giving your dog your time, energy and undivided attention is the ultimate gift. Dogs communicate through body language and they are highly astute at realizing when we are present and when we are the ghost at the end of the leash chatting away on the magic machine we call an I Phone.
When you decide to take your dog for a walk, a visit to Central Park, or on errands , BE with them – talk to them, laugh with them, practice manners training, and bring a couple of their favorite snacks to reward polite behavior. You wouldn’t invite a friend out for coffee or shopping and then ignore them, and our dogs deserve the same social graces.
2. Food Puzzles, everyone loves a crossword puzzle!
Chew items are a doggy parent’s best friend! Dogs are hard wired to want to chew and use their jaws, so try to provide a variety of nice and safe chew toys for your dog on a daily basis. If your dog is busy chewing a toy they are not chewing the furniture, your shoes or barking! A busy dog is a peaceful dog!
Give your dog a Crossword Puzzle! Put away the food bowl and feed your dogs meal in a food dispensing toy. Some of our favorites are the Kong, JW Amaze a Ball, Twist and Treat, Kibble Nibble and Atomic Treat Ball. Fill the toy with food and then your dog has to figure out how to make the food fall out. This may seem easy to the human, but food dispensing toys are crossword puzzles for dogs!
3. Fun and Games
Dogs don’t require big expensive gifts. Often the items on a dog wish list are free! One of many dog’s favorite activates is play. And playing with their parent makes it even more fun. Learn how to play with your dog! Is he a chaser, a tugger, a retriever, a hunter? What does he find cool to do?
Find It. This is one of my favorite games. It is perfect for meal time, a rainy day, or just plain fun with your dogs. Ask your dog to sit and stay. If they do not know this behavior gently tether (tie) them by their leash to a chair or table leg. Show them the yummy food in your hand. Run away from your dog and pretend to the hide the piece of food. Let them watch you do this. Reach your hand under a table, next to a chair, behind the book case etc. After a few “pretend’ hides, actually leave the treat in an easy hiding spot. Walk back over to your dog and tell them to “Find It” in enthusiastic voice and release them. Now watch your dog use his nose! To learn more about this game and the details check out our article and instructional video on Find It.
Hide and Seek is another favorite. To play this game you must get your dog distracted. I often show them a treat, say Find it, and then toss the food. While they are searching for the cookie, I run away and hide behind a chair or in another room. I then say “ Where’s Mommy” and my dog runs around the house looking for me. When my dog finds me I give them a yummy treat, toss their favorite toy or play a quick game of tug.
4. Meal time is training time
Make mealtime a training session and use the food as a reward. Teach manners, tricks, or just capture your dog doing something you like and reward them for it. For example, sit on your couch with your dog’s food in a bowl. Watch your dog. When he makes any movement such as lifts a paw, turns his head, sits, lies down, walks, licks his nose mark the behavior by saying YES in a happy voice and toss him a piece of kibble or give him a lick of wet food off a spoon. Be creative and have fun! With capturing you can mark and reward almost anything!
5. The perfect Saturday: A munchkin at Dunkin Doughnuts, a walk in the park and sunbathing.
If you were to ask my lab Aspen how she would like to be spoiled, I think her answer would be to make every day a Saturday! My boyfriend and I have a tradition of waking up every Saturday morning and doing the snack and park routine. We stop by Dunkin Doughnuts and get a plain glazed munchkin for each dog and we then proceed to central park for off leash hours. Off leash hours in the park is Aspens heaven. She spends time scenting, playing with dogs, lying in the sun and romping in streams. She has the biggest smile on her face. Now when I compare romping in the park to taking her shopping for a new winter sweater, you can guess which activity easily wins out!!